USPCA backs call for action to stamp out puppy smuggling in EU
Puppy smuggling has become the third most profitable organised crime in the European Union after drugs and weapons, the European Parliament has claimed.
Brendan Mullan, chief executive of the USPCA, said: "The European Parliament has stated that the illegal puppy trade is not only an animal welfare issue, it is the third most profitable organised crime within the EU after narcotics and weapons."
Earlier this month the animal rights organisation said Northern Ireland was being used as a corridor to transport thousands of illegally bred puppies into the UK.
The USPCA is also part of Operation Delphin - a joint effort with SPCA's in Scotland and Ireland, the HMRC, port authorities and Stena Line - to disrupt the illegal trade.
"This criminality represents a massive risk to public health," Mr Mullan explained.
"Puppies are produced under appalling conditions and usually not vaccinated. Many carry severe transmissible diseases and pose a real threat to animal and human health. As an active member of Eurogroup for Animals, the USPCA welcomes a joint declaration by five EU Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden), calling on the European Commission for action to stop the illegal trade in pet animals across the EU - particularly with regard to the smuggling of dogs across member states."
Today, the newly-formed EU Platform on Animal Welfare is to host their second meeting.
"The USPCA regard this as an incentive for the European Commission to act," said Mr Mullan.
"It is a step in the right direction, but we need to speed up action to end the suffering of millions of puppies."
Reineke Hameleers, director of Eurogroup for Animals commented: ''The numbers of dogs and cats being smuggled has grown enormously over the past decade, fuelled by a consumer demand for certain breeds, an increase in online classified advertisements, and a pet passport system which currently does not work.
"There is a huge amount of suffering endured through long journeys, a high risk of transmissible disease, and those surviving often become poorly socialised, leading to abandonment. The joint declaration by member states shows a willingness to act together. This is a truly welcome step in the right direction to protect our pets."
David Wilson from the USPCA said there was also serious concern about how cross-border puppy smuggling would be managed after Brexit.
"It's shocking the scale of money involved in this, it's not just a few dogs hidden in a box," he said.
"There's a major worry about improving animal welfare and how to limit exports within world trade rules. Right now you will have young puppies travelling from the north of Scotland to the south of Spain via Northern Ireland and it's often with animals who are far too young."
Katie Baxter (12) from Belfast rescued her beloved pet pooch Harley from a puppy farm just over a year ago.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last month she said: "We're not sure of his age. He was on a puppy farm most of his life. He pees on the carpet quite a bit but he has good qualities and he'll just snuggle up and hug you."
It is unknown how long Harley spent in appalling conditions which left him unable to walk up steps or play with toys when he was first adopted, but he has been growing in confidence since finding his new home.
Mum Cheryl added: "He would still be timid but he's spoilt now and follows me around everywhere. He's a lovely wee thing."